Intel music fest: Geek heaven!

NEW YORK -- Let's just say that the idea of a geek-sponsored rock-and-roll festival doesn't quite roll off the tongue."What is an Intel-sponsored music festival, anyway?
Written by Rivka Tadjer, Contributor on
NEW YORK -- Let's just say that the idea of a geek-sponsored rock-and-roll festival doesn't quite roll off the tongue.

"What is an Intel-sponsored music festival, anyway?" many normal, well-adjusted, non-techie people asked me when I mentioned that the second annual Intel New York Music Festival kicked off Wednesday night.

Well, it's what all great hard-core urban music festivals should be: The rock version of a citywide pub crawl that lasts four days.

A single pass gets you access to 300 bands at 20 clubs. When you get your pass, you get a little map of all the participating bars and clubs, and all the bands that will play each night at each venue.

You also get a bunch of friends together and go terrorize the city for a few days. I dare say there are a more than a few Manhattanites today who are snoozin' in their office cubes, resting up for tonight and the next round of fun.

And there's something for everyone: For the mellow folks, there's the James Taylor Quartet tonight at The Knitting Factory. For the rowdier groups, Grinspoon is at CBGB's and Itchy Trigger Finger is at the Meow Mix club. The list goes on for delicious choices of independent and alternative musicians.

So, what makes it Intel-sponsored? The live Web cybercast, of course. By Sunday morning, Intel will have broadcasted 400 hours of live music.

You can watch the bands play live at www.intelfest.com. You can go into chat rooms and chat with the bands (in theory), and listen to musician interviews and excerpts of their music on the Web all day long -- a perfect break between naps for all those sleepy cubby-dwellers.

Problem is, if you crank the speakers up too much the boss will figure you're not working. The idea is that if you aren't local, you can get a virtual experience via the Web that takes the MTV concept to the next, interactive level.

Ready for the full experience, I chose Irving Plaza for opening night. The three bands scheduled to play -- The Super Jesus, 16 Deluxe, and Jesus & Mary Chain -- sounded like just the right mix of sacrilegious hard rock to cut through yet another steamy New York summer night.

Geek fixes for the asking
Besides, Intel's "Command Central" -- where they were doing all the Webcasts -- was right across the street, so I could go get a geek fix between sets.

The live music itself was great. The house was pretty packed. Like all good live music shows have a way of doing, I quickly forgot that there was anything nerdy going on in the background. I didn't see anyone paying any attention to the fact that there were live chat sessions available backstage.

And no one was making a big deal out of the fact that part of the Jesus & Mary Chain performance would be burned into a CD by this morning, and then given away at the downtown Tower Records as a freebie to anyone who buys the band's latest release, "Munki."

If any of the clubs Wednesday night had the potential to be geeky, it would be The Irving Plaza crowd -- it was open to festival badge-holders only.

Many of the other clubs were open to the general public as well. Still, it looked pretty much like a live rock show, no obvious special effects.

I do consider it a testimony to the crowd, though-when there's good live music playing in front of your eyes, why go looking for a computer to log on to?

But Command Central kept beckoning the geek in me, so I slipped out after The Super Jesus.

The thing about the name Command Central is that what you really want to see is a cockpit. I dunno -- colorful knobs and dials and people intensely scurrying around.

It looked like any loft office in Soho, though. Or any office space in Silicon Valley.

Mostly, there were desks with PCs on them, and volunteers named Mike who had just moved from Ohio and wanted to be part of something cool sitting at them. Everyone sitting at the PCs was of course logged on to www.intelfest.com.

"What are you doing?" I asked Mike. "How does all this work?"

"I, uh, sit and watch the show," Mike says. "I click on the different clubs and see the bands. It's pretty cool."

I look for a second. "Video kinda stinks, doesn't it?" I say.

"Well, it's not great, but at least you can see them," he says. I watch the jerky, slow-mo, blurry, video and think to myself: 10 frames per second, tops. Mike sees the expression on my face, has already figured out that New York is a tough crowd to please, so does his best to change the subject.

"Listen, though," he says. "The audio is great."

He cranks up the speakers. He's right. The sound is good. The Web makes an awesome radio, and has for quite some time.

Ready to hear about some big, honking T3 line in charge of transferring the shows to the servers here at Command Central, I ask about the bandwidth. ISDN. That's it.

I have to say that I was perhaps most impressed by the fact that humble little ISDN was the workhorse of the festival.

How quickly I got bored of Command Central sort of sums up the whole virtual rock concert concept: If you can walk back across the street or take a 5-minute cab right to get to the next live performance, logging on to the Web or watching a bunch of servers humming pales as an alternative.

But as Mike so wisely put it: "At least I get to hear and see some of the bands, since I'm stuck sitting here."

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